| By Rob Polishook
Photo Credit: Getty Images/grinvalds


A few months ago, I was listening to John O’Sullivan’s Way of Champions’ podcast when he interviewed his colleague, renowned mental training coach Dr. Jerry Lynch. They were talking about how all athletes want to win, but the path to winning is not so much about wanting to win, but understanding how to W.I.N.

You may be wondering: What’s the difference between win and W.I.N.? A lot! In fact, it can be the difference between actually winning and losing. In the podcast, Dr. Lynch explained, “W.I.N. is an acronym for What’s Important Now.”

W.I.N. got me thinking … I loved the acronym and then decided to respectfully add my spin to Jerry and John’s conversation. I believe the way to win in the context of W.I.N. are the three C’s: Controllable, Compete and Challenge. Let me explain with an example …

Years ago, I was a high school tennis coach, and Joe was my number one singles player. Prior to each match, Joe would boldly proclaim, “Coach, I’m going to win today, I’m going to crush this guy!”

“How do you plan to do this?” I would ask him.

He would reply, “Don’t worry coach, I got this!”

Sure enough Joe won just one match and lost 19 during the season.

Joe had no understanding of how to W.I.N. (What’s Important Now), only of the desire to win. If he had, Joe would not have been focusing on the outcome, instead he would not have been promising with false bravado, he would have been breaking the task down into W.I.N.: What’s Important Now.

1. Controllables: In the instance of Joe, the match had not even started and he was focusing on the outcome. Certainly, the outcome is something in the future, something he cannot control. Imagine if he shifted his attention to what he could control? He could have focused on positive energy, centering himself with breathing exercises and strategizing what his game plan would be to counter his opponent’s game.

Like clockwork, Joe usually lost the first set pretty quickly. This is because he had one eye on winning, which is an uncontrollable, and the other eye on what he needed to do. Metaphorically, he was playing “cross-eyed tennis.” Nonetheless, it was only the first set, I encouraged Joe to focus on W.I.N.


2. Compete: Now down a set, Joe needed to refocus his energy to simply competing. This would mean letting go of the first set and starting fresh, shifting the focus to bouncing back, and trying to find a rhythm that would stop the opponent’s dominance. It would also entail slowing things down, getting back to rituals, and playing to his strengths both in point construction and shot selection. It would also include letting go of expectations.

By this time, Joe usually did find his game; he slowed things down and started to get back into the match. Hypothetically, the score was 3-4 in the second set. Joe would sit down at the change over and proclaim, “Coach, I’m working hard, doing everything I can!” It was here we would discuss the third “C,” Challenge.


3. Challenge: This match and any competition must be viewed through the lens of “Challenge” and not a “Threat.” When adversity gets reframed into a challenge, it allows the player to focus on the process. We all have had challenges and been able to bounce back. This is the time to bring up those instances and get back to the match. Not trying to protect you from looking bad or what others think. Rather recognizing the adversity as a challenge.

It’s imperative to remember that it’s natural to want to win. We all do! However, the key is to ask “What’s Important Now?” In answer to this question, I’d like to offer three, the three C’s. By re-framing adversity through one of the three C’s (Controllable, Compete, Challenge), the player will be more proactive, calm and present. Through this lens, they will be better able to manage adversity and bounce back throughout a match.



Rob Polishook

Rob Polishook, MA, CPC is the founder and director of Inside the Zone Sports Performance Group. As a mental training coach, his focus is on the athlete as a person first and recognizes the strength of being “More” than an Athlete.  Through this lens, he is able to help athletes be their best version of themselves both on and off the field. His best selling book Tennis Inside the Zone- 32 mental training workouts for champions is sold nationally and internationally. He has spoken at USTA, USPTA, ITA conferences, and has conducted workshops India, Israel and the Omega Institute. His work has been highlighted in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, Sports Illustrated , NY Times and other media. Additionally Polishook is an adjunct Professor at Seton Hall University. He may be reached by phone at (973) 723-0314, e-mail rob@insidethezone.com, or visit www.insidethezone.com.